The human papillomavirus (HPV) causes most cases of cervical cancer, as well as some cancers of the anus, vagina, vulva, penis and head and neck. Being vaccinated against HPV can help to prevent cervical cancer, as well as other cancers caused by HPV.
There are over 100 different types of HPV, some of which are more likely to lead to the development of cancer than others. About 40 types of HPV are known as genital HPV as they affect the anal and genital area. Genital HPV is spread by intimate skin to skin contact and skin to mucosa contact, including sexual intercourse. HPV infection is most common in the early years of sexual activity or with a new sexual partner. Both men and women can get HPV. Most women and men will have had at least one type of genital HPV in their lifetime.
More than 70% of cervical cancers in Australia are caused by two of the most common types of HPV (HPV16 and HPV18). HPV16 is also found in 90% of non-cervical cancers associated with HPV infection.
Gardasil 9 is a new HPV vaccine introduced in 2018, it protects against seven high-risk HPV types (16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58) which cause about 90% of cervical cancers in women and at least 90% of all HPV-related cancers in men. It also protects against two low-risk HPV types (6 and 11) which cause 90% of genital warts. So being vaccinated has the potential to prevent most cervical and other cancers and most cases of genital warts.
Gardasil 9 is free for Western Australian girls and boys in Year 8 as part of the school-based National Immunisation Program. Vaccinating girls and boys before they become sexually active means the vaccine will be most effective, as it has little (if any) effect in people already infected with HPV. Gardasil 9 also prevents infection from HPV 6 and HPV 11 which cause 90% of genital warts. It is important that parents give consent for their child (or children) to receive the vaccination, and to make sure they get all of the doses needed.
A child who has missed a scheduled dose is eligible to receive free catch-up vaccination at their school, community health or local government vaccination clinic or from their general practitioner.
Gardasil 9 is also available from health care professionals for men and women who were not vaccinated by the HPV Vaccination Program or the catch up programs. If you are interested in being vaccinated against HPV, speak with your doctor. You should know that there could be a cost for the appointment as well as the vaccination.
It is important to remember that women who have had the HPV vaccine still need participate in regular cervical screening. The National Cervical Screening Program provides free screening for cervical cancer.